The tapa is a small dish that is served in bars, either to eat or to accompany the consumption of a drink.
Typical of Spain and its different localities, Spanish tapas have become famous throughout the world and one of the recurring recommendations to travellers visiting the Mediterranean is not to miss a good tapas session that includes a dish of Iberian ham.
A little bit of History
Let’s start with a little history, popularly believed that the expression “tapa” to define a small dish of food, was born from the custom of covering beer and wine jugs in bars to avoid flies and dust. What was used as a lid was a slice of bread, so the rest is effectively history.
Yet this is not the only version, it is believed that it was the Catholic Monarchs who introduced the first tapas, by establishing a mandate that would prevent road accidents to the exits of the taverns.
This command obliged the innkeeper to accompany the jugs of wine with a plate of cold food and it is also said that it was Alfonso X “The Wise” himself who took the habit of accompanying the drink, prescribed daily during an illness, with a small bite, in order to prevent the alcohol from going to his head.
We don’t know what the real story is, but they all have their charm and can give us an idea of how the concept of “tapa”, so deeply rooted in our gastronomy, really came about.
What are tapas?
In Spain, tapas, more than just a type of dish, are considered a habit, with expressions such as “ir de tapas” or “perfecto para tapas” being normal. Having an aperitif at the bar and a snack while drinking with friends is one of our great and most shared traditions.
But then, what exactly are tapas, any food can be a tapa? According to the official definition offered by the Royal Spanish Academy, the tapa is a “small portion of some food that is served as an accompaniment to a drink” so the answer to the previous question is yes, although there are definitely more classic tapas than others.
Although once the tapa was a courtesy snack that motivated the consumption of drinks, nowadays, tapas have become the protagonists. In fact, the search is for good tapas and the complement is the drink, not the other way around and just as we can find the most traditional tapas, there are also gourmet proposals to satisfy all kinds of palates.
If we talk about the variety of tapas, we will never finish, as each area has its own unique ingredients that differ not only in ingredients, but also in style and presentation.
However, they can be divided into two main categories, hot and cold tapas, and here is a list of the most famous in Spain: (We do not translate the tapas so that they do not get lost in translation!)
Tortilla de patatas
Croquetas de jamón
Gambas al ajillo
Pulpo a la gallega
Chorizo a la sidra
If there’s anything on this list you haven’t tried yet, don’t waste any more time! Spanish gastronomy is full of wonders and they’re all waiting to be discovered.